Hawk of May is the first novel in a trilogy, the start of Gillian Bradshaw's retelling of the King Arthur story.
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When Uther, the Pendragon (high king) of Britain, dies without an heir, many of the British underkings scheme and fight to take his place, ignoring the danger of the ever encroaching Saxon immigrants. After Arthur, Uther's bastard son, enters the fray and seems to be winning, the others, among them the powerful King Lot, unite against him, but he defeats them all and forces them to grudgingly acknowledge his supremacy.
Gwalchmai ap Lot is the middle son of Lot and his wife, the sorceress Morgawse. He is a grave disappointment to his father, being a poor warrior, unlike his older brother Agravain. Gwalchmai turns to his mother to learn black magic. However, when she requires a human sacrifice to cast a spell against her half-brother Arthur, Gwalchmai flees rather than help her commit murder. This earns him the hatred of his mother and his younger brother Medraut.
Pursued by Mowgawse's magic, he receives protection from an unexpected source. Lugh of the Long Hand, a god and Gwalchmai's distant relative, has him brought to the Land of the Blessed, where he gives Gwalchmai a magic sword. Then he sends the youngster back to fight for Arthur.
He is captured by the Saxons, but escapes, stealing a magic horse in the process. He then joins Arthur, but despite being his nephew (or rather because he is Morgawse's son), he is given a very cold welcome. Gwalchmai turns out to be Arthur's finest warrior on horseback, even turning the tide of a crucial battle against the Saxons, but nothing can change Arthur's opinion of him. Finally, an act of kindness to a peasant woman convinces Arthur he is not evil, and Gwalchmai (translated as Hawk of May) is finally welcomed into Arthur's warband.
Best part of story, including ending:
Hawk of May is a deft twist on the Arthur legend, with plenty of original elements and an appealing central character.
Best scene in story:
At the end, Arthur accepts Gwalchmai's Threefold Oath of allegiance to him.
Opinion about the main character:
Gwalchmai comes across as a real young man, not some cardboard fantasy character.